Following months of debacle, a controversial pig farm in Northern Ireland has finally received planning permission to build a unit for 15,000 pigs.
Farmer Derek Hall had originally suggested building a unit for 30,000 pigs on the Rea Hill Road near Newtownabbey but revised plans have now been passed for a unit half that size.
The permission was passed by councillors, some of them farmers, at a sitting of Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough Council Planning Committee where 9 councillors voted in favour and 2 opposed the development.
Residents had voiced huge concern over the project and said the unit would produce too much slurry and smell. All told, there were 856 individual letters of objection and 200,000 people had previously signed an online petition.
Celebrities including Queen guitarist and animal welfare campaigner Brian May as well as actors Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove publicly opposed the pig unit as well in the past.
Angry opponents were present in the council chamber for the meeting and protested afterwards outside, some confronting the councillors.
There had been claims from charity Animal Aid that up to 17,000 pigs would be kept in cramped conditions. Ulster Unionist Party councillor Roderick Swann is also a farmer and backed the proposal. He said: “I’m a farmer myself who supports the agri-industry and I was quite satisfied that all the necessary welfare issues were addressed. The planning case officer and all the consultees were quite happy with everything that was proposed.”
Asked if he understood the strong opposition both from locals and those not so local Swann said: “I can and I can’t. There was an awful lot of ‘not in my back yard’, with lots of e-mails flying through. But these people are all farm quality assured, the pigs are well looked after. To get a quality assurance accreditation is very tight.”
As part of their campaign against the project, opponents said they had huge issues with excessive noise and smell.
Swann said: “I myself was in Germany to see the system and I can tell you I was standing six inches from the external wall and could only smell wood. I also put my ear to the wall an only heard an odd snort.”
The councillor also spoke out about celebrities becoming involved in such cases and told them to “keep your nose out.” Swann said: “I would say simply keep your nose out of it. I’m a farmer myself for 50 years and I understand farming. A lot of these animal rights folks, they’re entitled to their opinion, but I think they’re on the wrong track sometimes. This will be the most modern pig farm, not a factory, not only in Ireland but also Great Britain.”
Two DUP councillors were the only ones to vote against the new pig farm which will be built on a green field site. Councillor John Smyth and his fellow party colleague Thomas Hogg voted against the motion.
Smyth said: “My objections were that I felt the experts weren’t always right. I was undecided till tonight when I heard the arguments for and against. Bringing such a large development of slurry to the side of a hill I think is going to be dangerous for the future. Also, I have concerns how it will be produced year after year. I have grave concerns.”
He continued to say, “I wouldn’t like it on my front door, and a lot of people are concerned. It will definitely smell. People say it will be odour free, but there’s no such thing as an odour free system. There are animal welfare concerns.”